With the help of the National Decommissioning Centre’s Malcolm Stone and Roger Esson of the Net Zero Technology Centre, Utility Week Innovate dives into the application of a ‘smart city’ approach to North Sea asset management.

September saw the unveiling of an immersive marine simulation suite at the National Decommissioning Centre in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, in an effort to transform offshore infrastructure projects in the North Sea – which covers an area of 220,000 square miles.

Launched under a partnership between the University of Aberdeen and the Net Zero Technology Centre, the £1.6 million facility has been jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments and the Net Zero Technology Centre through the Aberdeen City Region Deal – a 10-year investment programme supported by £125 million from each government, and a further £575 million from regional public and private partners.

Designed for detailed marine technology and operational simulations as well as complex data modelling and visualisation, the suite provides a virtual environment where users can game offshore and subsea operations such as the removal or installation of energy infrastructure.

The Net Zero Technology Centre’s staff are also harnessing these capabilities to create a virtual model of the North Sea in a project dubbed ‘Smart Basin’ – which involves mapping all offshore oil, gas and renewable infrastructure and compiling key information such as lifespan, greenhouse gas emissions, and power usage.

Cost benefits from data visualisation

The Scottish government is currently supporting a raft of research schemes as part of the Net Zero Technology Centre-led Data for Net Zero project – one of seven energy transition schemes to receive a portion of £16.5 million awarded in August to help shift Scotland towards a net-zero economy, transform the North Sea energy system and deliver in the region of £403 billion for the economy and 21,000 jobs by 2050.

“With data science, visualisation and computer modelling at its core, the Data for Net Zero project will utilise the centre’s simulator to power forward a reimagined offshore energy system enabled by data sharing and evidence-based decision-making,” Myrtle Dawes, solutions centre director at the Net Zero Technology Centre, explained at the suite’s launch.

What’s more, with the Oil and Gas Authority estimating the total cost of oil and gas decommissioning to be £51 billion, the simulator will help the industry plan projects and make informed decisions based on data according to Roger Esson, head of industry and partner network at the Net Zero Technology Centre.

“Recent research by Struan Energy calculated potential cost benefits of £5.6 billion if collaboration in terms of processes and technology across the industry,” he tells Utility Week Innovate.

De-risking North Sea operations

Malcom Stone, business development analyst at the National Decommissioning Centre, adds that the biggest benefit of the the University of Aberdeen and the Net Zero Technology Centre’s partnership is the opportunity to trial operations in a virtual environment, where mistakes can be made and users can safely push the limits of operating in challenging environmental conditions.

“By doing this we can de-risk operations or show a better way to do things, creating certainty where there was doubt,” he says.

“The environmental impact is likely to be in terms of reducing the operation time and therefore reducing the carbon footprint of the operation whilst also reducing the cost.

“Being able to provide evidence that the operation is safe in different weather conditions or can be undertaken in a wider weather window will also have cost and environmental benefits, “ Esson continues. “De-risking has the potential for reducing cost through reduced insurance”.

Additionally, virtual trialing will result in fewer personnel visits offshore and support earlier technology adoption, Esson adds – delivering emissions reductions and work towards a 35% cost reduction target.

“Being able to reduce the length of time an operation takes by a single day might save the cost of a diving support or construction vessel for that day which could be £100,000-£200,000,” he explains. “If we look at optimised decision making across the basin there is the potential to save millions.”

Sinking a ‘smart city’ concept into the North Sea

Stone adds that the marine simulator will also create a more collaborative approach to decommissioning and sustainability challenges and support repurposing and reuse through the sharing of data to deliver more efficient operations across energy companies.

The simulator’s first brief has seen it assess novel, and more cost-effective, techniques for the installation of anchor systems for offshore floating wind turbines in tandem with local company Aubin. However, Stone explains that the system can also be used to test the water on widespread decommissioning options.

“A good example is the removal of the Strathspey Manifold which we have in the system,” he explains. “We can test various options in different weather and wave conditions and assess the best one.

“The system can also be used to trial new technologies,” he adds. “We already have a model of Ecosse IP’s linear ambient lifter in the system being used to remove a piece of conductor subsea without the use of a crane.  Ecosse IP would not have had the opportunity to showcase their technology’s capability without the simulator.”

Esson adds that the simulator has a “smart cities” capability, allowing the user to visualise and model data to assist in decision making. “We are currently setting up a model of East of Shetland oil and gas cluster onto which we will overlay specific data to help assess the effects of campaigns or electrification of the assets during late life,” he says.

“The goal is to take the concept of a smart city and apply it to the North Sea. Data on potential workscope dates for brownfield modifications, marine activity, flight schedules, emissions, etc. could be plugged into the system and allow scenarios to be played out. This requires data from operators about platform models etc. to map out North Sea operations which is information that has historically not been shared.”

Visualisation value

Both the National Decommissioning Centre and the Net Zero Technology Centre are also in talks with a number of ports regarding the simulator’s use to trial new scenarios and gauge the effect of optimising technical or operational changes in the face of new renewable energy system deployments and decommissioning activities.

“The biggest opportunities for this technology are in being able to assist in reducing emissions and the cost of operations either through the optimisation of a particular operation or through using the smart cities capability to show how collaboration or the integration with renewables can be used to make better basin-side decisions,” Esson says.

“It provides a valuable means to visualise on a large North Sea basin perspective the interdependences and opportunities delivered through the deployment of certain technologies or through specific decision-making scenarios.

“Securing and sharing the data required to create a smart basin of the future is fundamental to this and it will be challenging but, in doing so we will be able to facilitate a more collaborative approach to operations and reduce emissions,” he adds.

What’s more, there’s also scope to build scenes of different geographical areas, develop new systems and import vessels into the simulator for future adaption and widespread use.

“We have already built new anchorage models with variable buoyancy for the SuperGen project,” Esson continues. “We are building some new mechanisms for another potential project to show the client how we can support their operations and trial some new ideas they have.”

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